For most of the past three years Nepal has been hailed as a veritable success for its transition from monarchy to democracy, peace process, interim constitution, elections, and formation of a Constituent Assembly (CA). Now with its government collapsed and a total breakdown in the delivery of basic services to the people, Nepal’s constitution-making process is all but frozen and will likely fail to meet its March 2010 deadline for completion.
The constitutional gridlock is in large part a symptom of the greater political discord in Nepal. Many political stakeholders believe that the Unified Communist Party of Nepal – Maoist (UCPN-M) have treated their plurality in parliament (nearly 40% of the seats) as a mandate to govern as if a majority, and in doing so have alienated their coalition partners, turning them to what one Nepali insider called “defensive mode.” Whether functioning on the defensive or with a different political agenda, several of the other political parties have made it their objective to block the UCPN-M from governing, without regard for the impact of the impasse on the people.
The most recent flashpoints were the firing of the Chief of Army Staff and the subsequent resignation of the Prime Minister. On May 3 the UCPN-M led government decided to fire the Chief of Army Staff, the latest in a series of developments that call into question the stability and loyalty of Nepal’s army. Nepal’s President (a member of the Nepali Congress Party) immediately reinstated the Chief of Army Staff, a move the UCPN-M declared unconstitutional. In protest the UCPN-M Prime Minister resigned on May 4. The CA has since been unable to form a new government, while boycotts and protests have derailed the legislative and constitution-making processes.
All the while the security situation deteriorates, basic services are not reaching the population, and far down on the list of concerns – the constitution-making process remains all but frozen. The impasse, whenever and however it is resolved, will likely not be in time for a final constitution to be ratified by March 2010. As a result, one of three outcomes for the constitution-making process seems likely. First, deadlines could be ignored. Second, the CA could be granted a six-month extension (an option under the interim constitution but only in the case of a formal state of emergency). Or third, the interim constitution could itself be amended to extend the time for drafting and ratifying a permanent one.
Time extensions for constitution-making processes are not in and of themselves serious cause for concern. Nepal’s political stalemate and the inability of its leaders to put governing ahead of politics, however, are.